There’s something incredibly comforting about Greek delis—the grubbier a deli is, the more homely I find it. This has everything to do with The Greek Deli being a permanent fixture of my Inner West upbringing and also says everything about mine being a creature of habit, in other words a lamenter of change. In my once Greek-Italian, now Lebanese-Chinese migrant hub of a suburb, there used to be two such delis, one in an arcade leading to the plaza, the other inside the plaza itself. Now the former is gone and the latter will be too, once the plan to demolish the grimy old plaza is finalised.
The time-honoured mall is being forced down demolition lane because some little piggies reached the unanimous decision that the people of this one-road town deserved more high rise complexes, that the twenty-or-so apartments they erected over the last few years are not enough, that the chronic shortage of parking space and bins will matter when the fivefold population becomes tenfold, maybe. In a town that sees a new Chinese restaurant appear every other day, a new residential development every other month, my days with the dear old Greek deli are numbered. This is a premature obituary of sorts.
Where to begin? The deli was there when the fruit shop opposite was run by Old Eagle, his bushy black eyebrows and robust ‘TWO DOLLA TWO DOLLA!!’ sales calls come 5 p.m. owned him that moniker, a favourite inside joke of my family’s; it was there when I first moved to this town, which was also when I first arrived in Australia: September 2001. It must be as old as the plaza itself, and little has changed as far as the last sixteen years are concerned.
Italian panettone in colourful trapezoidal boxes, fossils from last christmas, still hang from the awning, along with an assortment of preserved meats and exotic spices—none of which look too fresh. There are always dried, shrink-wrapped figs and dates on the counter, a sticky mystery to my Chinese eyes. Nectar juices line the outer base of the half-U fridge that doubles as a counter, behind which you’ll find a nice blonde lady, an equally nice redheaded one, and George, the owner, who wears the same combination of blue shirt and black pants everyday, like characters do in cartoons; I like that the ladies could really use some conditioner, and that George has that twinkle-in-the-eyes thing going, plus the occasional wink. Inside the fridge sits an assortment of never changing ready-to-eat foods, hams and cheeses, and trays of antipasto. The fridge is dusty here and there on the outside, and its contents, under poor lighting and not always handled with gloves, don’t look the way things do at trendy joints that rip you off. The no glove thing irks my mother but has never bothered me—let’s not pretend cafe and restaurant workers prepare food with gloved hands behind the Staff Only sign. They don’t, and it’s part of the reason they don’t want customers storming in.
The plaza deli is a staple in my life and breakfast will never be the same again because food from supermarket giants lack that small business human touch—loathed by council inspectors and mother, loved by me. I guess what I really mean is, in a town that is changing as ferociously as change is allowed, that deli, unchanged since I was nine, offers a bulwark against the crumby chaos. But change, I learnt, is inevitable. The day that old light box comes off I’ll bite into my germy mortadella one last time and shed a tear: δ. So long, old friend.